Week of 06/03/22: Vinography
Hello and welcome to my weekly dig into the pile of wine samples begging to be tasted. I’m happy to bring you the latest episode of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the best bottles that have come through my door recently.
Last week, a few wines from Neely Wine, a small family business that follows in the great tradition of Stanford faculty wineries in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, were included. The winery owns and operates the Spring Ridge vineyard, which begins in the Portola Valley and runs up the eastern flanks of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both have lovely lean liveliness and show great restraint in winemaking, emphasizing the fruit rather than the barrel.
The rest of this week’s wines are sort of a comparison panel, put together by the folks at Wines of Chile, who decided to send me six Cabernet Sauvignons, three from the Colchagua Valley and three from the Maipo Valley.
Therefore, we have to make a small geographical explanation.
The Maipo Valley is the closest major wine region to the Chilean capital, Santiago, right in the middle of the country, this proximity having made it one of the first wine regions to be planted in the country. Maipo tends to be hot and dry, and the vineyards are mostly located in the foothills of the Andes, which provide a refreshing little uplift and are responsible for the alluvial gravel that led early French winemakers to suggest to recently independent Chileans that they should plant Bordeaux grape varieties.
The southern border of the Maipo Valley is formed by another (much larger) east-west valley known as the Rapel Valley. Rapel is divided into two distinct wine regions, and the southern part is known as the Colchagua Valley. The slightly lower altitudes of this valley, the higher annual rainfall (than Maipo) and its fertile soils have made this region one of the best agricultural lands in Chile. But Colchagua has soils very similar to Maipo, again thanks to the ubiquitous Andes and the seemingly endless number of rivers that flow from the Cordillera. Given its previous focus on traditional agriculture, Colchagua is a relatively new wine region, with fewer big names than Maipo.
Interestingly, the Chileans sent in wines from these two regions for comparison and contrast, as they are actually quite similar in the broadest terms, kind of like asking someone to compare and contrast contrast Oakville and St. Helena to Napa. It’s hard to generalize (or extrapolate) a big difference from just a few wines. It might be much easier to compare the individual sites of each vineyard than to compare the two valleys.
But, strictly speaking of the six wines below, I found Colchagua wines to have slightly more grassy and salty tones, while Maipo wines tasted slightly riper and fruitier. Of the six, I enjoyed the Echeverria and Torres wines just slightly more than their compatriots, although all were quite tasty, with some being excellent values.
I must note with some prejudice that the Echeverria wine comes in an offensively heavy bottle, one of the most egregious I’ve experienced in some time. The glass itself weighs over a kilogram, a ridiculously ostentatious statement that clearly suggests the winery cares more about its brand image than the environment.
It’s all for this week !
2019 Neely “Bee Block” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon peel and white flowers. On the palate, lemon curd and lemon pith are very pleasant thanks to good acidity and light notes of tropical fruits such as papaya and mango that linger on the finish. 13.3% alcohol. 595 boxes made. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $46. click to buy.
2019 Neely “Hidden Block” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry. On the palate, bright gooseberry and raspberry flavors have a hint of pomegranate and a green, dried herb flavor that is appealing. There’s even a slight saline quality to the finish. 12.5% alcohol. 254 boxes made. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Terranoble “Gran Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly smoky earth and red fruits. On the palate, juicy flavors of cherry and herbs mingle with a hint of licorice and dried flowers. There is a slight saline quality to the wine. Also light tannins. 14% alcohol. Note: approx. 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2016 Echeverria “Limited Edition” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. On the palate, the wine has a stony purity, with notes of cherry and tobacco mingling with cola and lovely earth. Excellent acidity and very fine tannins. 14% alcohol. Comes in a stupidly heavy bottle weighing 1.86kg when full. One of the worst I’ve seen. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2018 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass and bright cherry. On the palate, cherry, green herbs and a hint of green pepper mingle under a vaporous haze of tannins. Good acidity. Certified sustainable. 14% alcohol. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2017 Viña Aquitania “Lazuli” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and a hint of black olive. On the palate, this fruity, savory quality continues with cherry, black olive, herbs and a hint of tobacco enveloped in a vaporous haze of tannins. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Note: approx. 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Los Vascos “Cromas – Gran Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of lightly smoky green herbs and red fruits. On the palate, cherry and green herbs mingle with dried sage and a touch of licorice root. Good acidity, very light tannins and a touch of warmth on the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2018 Miguel Torres “Reserva Especial Cordillera de los Andes – Parcela Coluvión” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, black cherry and cola with just a hint of fresh green herbs. On the palate, flavors of cherry cola mingle with a touch of cinnamon and cocoa powder. Quite pretty. 14% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.